Marianne had been told to go to Tante Catharine’s instead when she made her Sunday visits that week. Tante Catharine was having a dinner party to welcome back Edmond and Mathilde, who had decided to return home from their honeymoon because they found Atlantic City terribly boring this late in the season. The word was that Agnès had spent the entire sail back sulking in the cabin and was not speaking to her sister.
Catharine welcomed her daughters and son-in-law into her living room. She gave both of the girls a cold kiss on the cheek.
“Hello Maman,” Mathilde said.
“Hello Maman,” Agnès also said.
“Did you enjoy yourselves?” Catharine asked them.
“Yes, but remind me never to go to Atlantic City out of season again.”
At the mention of Atlantic City, Agnès’s face drooped into a bad tempered pout.
“Edmond, nice to see you again”
“Likewise Madame,” Edmond responded. He took Catharine’s hand and kissed it.
Feeling overlooked, Marianne stepped forward.
“Hello Tante Catharine” she politely said.
“I hope you are doing well, Marianne”
Catharine gave the girl a kiss on the cheek which felt like a frostbite.
Mathilde and Agnès chimed in with their apathetic greetings.
“Hello Cinderella” Edmond added.
He was giving her a look which Hades must have given Persephone before he dragged her down to the underworld.
Marianne had believed that she had moved beyond being bothered by Edmond Danton, but now that he was back, he still had the power to disturb her peace of mind.
As evening fell, the three girls retired to Mathilde and Agnès’s old bedroom to change for dinner.
“Which one should I wear?” Mathilde said, referring to the two dresses she had brought with her. “Should I wear this little blue tease or should I give them a night they’ll really remember and wear the red?”
The red was a slinky bias cut which looked like a night dress.
Agnès, who was arranging her curls in front of the dressing table’s large round mirror, was completely ignoring her.
“No contest then, the red.”
For a finishing touch on her hair, Agnès added a light pink rose which matched the dress she was going to wear.
“Aren’t you getting all dolled up. Too bad Kit Trask won’t be here.”
Agnès was used to Mathilde trying to get an arise out of her and had learned to ignore her teasing. So she continued with her sullen silence.
“Who’s Kit Trask?” Marianne asked.
“A boy we met in New York. He became so smitten with Agnès that he followed us to Chicago and then to Atlantic City, and even proposed to her there. I said “Mr. Trask, my sister is too young to make such a decision and my mother would not approve” and Edmond and I decided to take an earlier boat home. Poor Trask’s father then called him back to Nebraska, or wherever he was from.”
“New Mexico,” Agnès corrected.
“You never could stand to see me happy.”
“It just wouldn’t have done, sister.”
“His family has plenty of money.”
“But they’re only first generation money,” Mathilde appeared to be parodying her mother “and you have to be at least third generation money to be good enough for a d’Aubrey.”
“Damn it, I’m not even a d’Aubrey. My name is Thomas and I’m sure any money is good enough for a Thomas.”
Mathilde lay the red dress across the white chenille bedspread. The blue dress was treated with far less respect; it lay on the floor, tossed aside like old rags. Marianne picked it up, smoothed the fabric, and hung it up on the closet door.
“You may borrow it if you like,” Mathilde said.”Since you don’t have anything decent to wear.”
Marianne had brought the dress she wore to the wedding but now she felt ashamed of it.
“Blue will suit you better, Marianne,” Agnès kindly added. “I have a pair of silver shoes and a silver headband that’ll match.”
Marianne did not hate her cousins but she did not love them either. They were kind to her when it suited them but most of the time they ignored her. Though only eight months her senior, Mathilde saw her cousin as a child who was too small and insignificant for her notice and Agnés usually followed her sister’s lead. Marianne was wary of their kindness because it was so fleeting and had learned not to get too comfortable around them no matter how nice they seemed.
Mathilde and Agnès were both seated on the long bench in front of the dressing table. Unlike her sister’s neat pin curls and minimal makeup meant to bring a pretty blush to her pallid complexion and accentuate her eyes, Mathilde wore her hair loose in wild waves and her makeup bold and dramatic .
Marianne put on the blue dress and went to look in the full length mirror which hung on the closet door.
“Agnès was right,” Mathilde said,”the blue dress does suit you; you’re both so…sweet.”
She had gotten up from the dressing table and went over to her bed and fallen back against the ruffled white pillows.
“I’ll help you fix your hair,” Agnès offered.
“I’ll help too,” Mathilde joined in.
Marianne did not know which was to be feared more: Their snubs or Their kindness.
Mathilde lead Marianne over to the dressing table and practically threw her onto the bench. Agnès brushed and parted her hair. Their three faces hung in front of the mirror in a diagonal line like three carnival masks. Being this close to them, Marianne could see that their cheeks were a bit slack looking and their mouths naturally turned downwards in overindulged looking pouts. Theirs were haughty, aristocratic faces which never look quite right without chin and nose upturned.
“You have nice eyebrows,” Mathilde said then took a pair of tweezers and began to pluck at Marianne’s eyebrows.
Agnès began to curl her hair after the curling iron had reheated, then twisted each curl and pinned it to her head.
With the tweezers ripping at her eyebrows and the bobby pins poking at her scalp, Marianne felt like she was being tortured. A part of her wanted to scream out “stop, I’ll tell you everything.” But the torture produced pleasing results.
Agnès looked pretty and Mathilde looked seductive but Marianne looked beautiful.
Mathilde took a look at the beautiful Fabergé mantle clock on her dresser and saw that it was time for them to go down to greet the guests.
Noticing she still had not put on her stockings, Marianne fell behind her cousins. She rolled on her good stockings, the white ones, and attached them to hooks at the hem of her underwear. Then she tied a red velvet ribbon around her thigh by way of a garter.
The door had been left wide by her cousins and as far as Marianne was concerned, no one was in the hall. But then the door slammed shut and for a split second, she swore there was a shadow outside.
la Fille Mal Gardeé
That evening was also the opening of La Fille Mal Gardeé at the Palais Garnier and the butterflies in Adèle’s stomach were dancing a ballet of their own.
Before the opening, she stood in the wings waiting for her entrance.
“For you, Madame Martin.” The hushed voice of a girl sent over from a nearby florist said to her.
She had brought over the usual bouquet of pink rosebuds from Charles along with a single red rose in a box.
“Who is the rose from?” Adèle asked the flower girl.
“Don’t know, they didn’t sign the card.” She answered.
“Bring them into my dressing room.”
The opening music began to play and Adèle went out on stage.
From their box, Charles and Sarah watched the ballet begin. Adèle, as the pretty peasant girl Lise, go about her chores and daydream about her lover. She becomes so distracted from her chores that she dances around, twirling a pink ribbon.
Lise’s lover Colas arrives and they fall into a passionate embrace, which is broken up by Lise’s angry mother. Colas escapes with the pink ribbon as a love token.
“Adèle’s dancing divinely tonight,” Sarah whispered.
Sarah was wearing a new white evening dress and there was still something of Laurie Finny’s young bride in the gleam of her eyes and the pink in her cheeks.
All of the eyes in the boxes turned to look as a woman dressed in black walked into box five.
“That’s La Thenardier,” the whisper was.
Marianne made her proud entrance down the main staircase and was met by Tante Mimi.
“You look stunning,” she said to her niece.
“I can’t imagine where that dress came from,” Tante Catharine added.
“Mathilde lent it to me,” Marianne answered.
“I hope you are grateful.”
Tante Catharine looked at her with something like a smile to see her wear a beautiful dress.
“Who’s going to be here tonight?,” Agnès asked her sister as they came into the front room.
“Edmond’s parents, of course,” Mathilde told her, “and that dreadful sister of his.”
Marianne thought this was a pretty nasty thing for her to say about a girl who was supposedly one of her best friends.
Edmond followed them in. He looked Marianne over and said:”looks like Cinderella’s fairy godmother came through tonight.”
“There you are, Mon Chéri,” Mathilde greeted him.
She threw her arms around his neck and he kissed her. They then walked into the living room.
Mathilde liked to show off like this in front of people. She never missed an opportunity to rub it in that she was Madame Edmond Danton.
Catharine called the two remaining girls forward and informed them, like a general preparing her troops for battle, that there would be many dashing young men from good families there that night and if they were smart, they would take notice.
When the guests arrived, the party broke into two camps: the mature, frosty, and stodgy camp headed by Catharine who gathered in the drawing room, and the young, shallow, and vicious camp headed by Edmond and Mathilde who had gone over to the less formal living room .
Marianne’s presence cramped Mathilde’s style as much as if she had been a small child she was obliged to watch her language around.
Everything Marianne did, such as refusing an offered cigarette and choosing a glass of wine over something stronger, annoyed her. The rest of the party had little interest in Marianne and she had even less interest in them.
It would have been even more fun to snub her if she was trying to ingratiate herself into their group but instead, she just sat in a chair by the window and watched the street outside. Sometimes Mathilde would pout at her like a spoiled child when someone is not going along with their whims. Her look seemed to say “you’re no fun.”
Marianne was sorry that she was not being very “fun” but her heart felt much too heavy. To her mind, she had just been invited so they could ignore her. But her thoughts were elsewhere.
“You see that dress my cousin is wearing?” Mathilde said to Solange, Edmond’s oldest sister,”it’s mine. The poor thing doesn’t have anything decent to wear, so I leant her that dress so she wouldn’t embarrass herself.”
“You’re a saint,” Solange added in a cloying tone.
“Did you see my mother this evening? She really shouldn’t wear grey, it makes her look like the warden at a women’s prison.”
“I think your mother is very elegant.” Marianne butt in.
“Forgive her,” Mathilde whispered to Solange,”She’s seen so little of the world.”
Marianne brushed off the insult; Mathilde did not matter.
Sitting by the window made Marianne shiver a little. Chilly evening air was coming in through the window, which everyone else insisted on keeping open, though the season of balmy summer nights was over. She had no interest in the catty gossip of the other girls and wished that she was back at home, sitting by a fire, wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea and Johnny curled up at her feet.
“Brrrr, it’s a bloody ice box in here,” Edmond said,”somebody close the goddamn window.”
When no one else stepped up, Edmond did the honors himself.
“Poor Cinderella, you must be freezing,” he said to her. He took off his jacket and offered it to her.
“Thank you,” she said, putting it around her shoulders.
Edmond then turned to smile at Mathilde, who was coming over to him. Everyone was expecting and hoping for her to be annoyed at her husband’s display of gallantry towards another woman but she did not seem bothered by it.
“Always the gentleman,” Mathilde said.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
Everyone there found it satisfying to see the usually bossy Mathilde suddenly become a loving and submissive wife. It was a sign of Edmond’s power over her that she remained unaffected by his flirting with other women and was still affectionate. Perhaps Mathilde was too self absorbed to see what was really going on.
Marianne breathed a sigh of relief when she was left alone again. It was strangely comforting to have Edmond’s jacket wrapped around her. The jacket still had his body warmth and the scent of a woodsy, musky, spicy cologne on it. But Edmond was not the man she was thinking of.
“You’re cheery tonight.” Mathilde said.
Marianne thought she was talking to her but actually Mathilde was talking to Agnès who was sitting at a tea table writing a letter.
“I thought only idiots were happy all the time,” was Agnès’s flippant reply.
“What are you writing?”
Mathilde snatched the letter and began to read it.
“You’re writing to that boy from New York.”
She laughed loudly and shouted that she would show this to their mother.
“Give that back, Mathilde, or I swear…”
Agnès chased after her sister and everyone watched with pity less eyes and laughed to encourage Mathilde.
Tante Catharine, who had been chatting in the hall with Carole Danton, rushed in to see what the commotion was about.
“Mathilde, Agnès” she said in a firm tone which made the two girls stop in their tracks.
“Maman,” Agnès whined,”Mathilde took a letter I was writing and won’t give it back.”
“She’s keeping secrets from you, Maman,” Mathilde explained, “She’s writing to her lover.”
“Give me the letter, Mathilde,” Catharine intercut.
Mathilde obeyed and Catharine began to read over the letter.
“Who is Kit?”
“Where did you meet him?”
“In New York,” Agnès answered meekly.
“In this letter it says that you’ve agreed to marry him.”
“We decided not to tell anyone until he could come to Paris to make his intentions known to you in person. I love him, Maman!”
Catharine returned the letter to Agnès.
“You may continue writing to this young man. Never sneak behind my back again,” she told her daughter in a stern voice before leaving the room.
Agnès took this as a sign that her mother was on her side and continued with writing her letter.
“Are you going to let Agnès marry Kit?” Mathilde asked her mother.
Pas du Ruban
Charles and Sarah watched Adèle and her partner perform a dance called the pas du ruban, where they spun in and out of a long pink ribbon and embraced.
“I like this ballet,” Sarah said to Charles,”It’s much more cheery than the last one.”
La Fille Mal Gardée was a rollicking comedy which was a nice break from the melodramas the Paris Opera Ballet had performed before.
The curtain fell upon the end of the first act when Lise has to hide Colas from her mother and the boorish suitor she is forcing on her.
“I’m very thirsty,” Sarah continued,”I’m going to get a drink.”
She opened up her purse to get some money.
“What are those?” Charles asked, pointing to a wad of photographs sticking out of Sarah’s purse.
“Pictures of my children.”
“My I look at them?”
“Certainly. I’m going to the bar now.”
Charles began to look through the photographs and came to one he recognized. One of a baby dressed in a baptism gown dated 1914.
“Sarah, where did you get this,” he asked her when she returned.
“You sent it to me years ago.”
The lady in box five began to whisper with a gentleman who had come in during the first act. Those near them were curious and watched and wondered what they were talking about. The whispering and curiosity continued throughout the second act.
What Being Friendly Means
When no one was looking, Marianne snuck away to the library to be alone with her thoughts. She did not think that anyone would even notice she was gone.
It did her good to get away from those people. There was something cold and empty in their eyes and they seemed to care about nothing but their own amusement, which was usually at someone else’s expense as poor Agnès had found out.
Marianne sat down on a worn and comfortable old love seat and kicked off her borrowed shoes which were too big for her. Agnès did have big feet.
Now that she was alone, she could continue her train of thought in peace.
She had read about Augustin’s arrest in the paper. He had committed a crime, he deserved to be in jail, and the only problem she had with it was that she missed him. It was foolish to keep thinking of him but what else could she do?
Why did he have to be so stupid, and more importantly, why did she have be so stupid also? She felt like she had been even stupider than he had. She had been stupid enough to trust him in the first place.
Her train of thought was broken by the sound of footsteps coming into the library and then by Edmond’s mercilessly charming smile.
“I didn’t mean to disturb you,” he said “we’ve run out of cigars and I was told that your aunt kept some in here.”
He was lying; he knew that Catharine kept the cigars in a humidor near the liquor cabinet .
Edmond began to walk around the library looking for anything which might contain cigars. Marianne sat completely still, like someone who was trying to avoid being attacked by a serpent.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said with a laugh as he slithered over and sat down by her side.
Marianne suddenly realized how small and close the loveseat was and how useless it was to try to move farther away.
“I don’t want to be afraid,” she told him.
“You don’t have to be.”
“They’ll be expecting you with the cigars.”
“Let them wait, I want to talk to you.”
“About everything that’s happened and how I’m sorry for whatever I did to make you scared of me.”
“I feel like I’ve grown up a little over the summer and now I think it’s silly to be scared.”
“So, can you forgive me?”
He took her hand and kissed it.
“I hope we can be friendly, Edmond”
He touched her chin with his hand.
“You don’t need to be afraid anymore.”
Edmond leaned in and kissed her, pushing her onto her back with one hand up her skirt . She abruptly sat up.
“Edmond, what are you trying to do?”
“What do you think?”
“I thought you just wanted to be friendly.”
“What did you think being friendly meant?”
He pulled her close by her shoulders, pushing down one of the straps of her dress, and kissed her neck, again pushing her onto her back with a hand up her skirt.
“Stop, you’re hurting me!”
Edmond then stopped his advances. He smiled at her as if they both shared some naughty secret and left the room laughing which frightened Marianne even more than if he had been angry.
She got up and smoothed her skirt which had been pushed up, exposing the skin between her knickers and her stockings.
“I can’t go back to the living room,” she thought, “not if he’s there. He and Mathilde are probably laughing about me already. I’ll tell Tante Mimi that I have headache and then go home before I’m humiliated further.”
At the news of the headache, Mimi advised Marianne to have some ginger tea and go straight to bed.
“You wouldn’t get those headaches of yours if you got more fresh air,” said Catharine, who was always in excellent health and never could understand how anyone could be otherwise.
Both of them did not even suspect what had really happened. At least Marianne was not lying about the headache; she always got headaches when she was stressed. She could not tell them the truth because it would be just her word against Edmond’s and he could always deny everything. Worse, he could tell everyone that she was the type of girl who could be seduced by her cousin’s husband which would break her aunts’ hearts.
On her way out, she caught her reflection in a mirror and a made-up and unfamiliar face looked back at her.
When she got home, she sat down at her dressing table and wiped off her makeup. She looked into her mirror and saw that one half of her face was done up with makeup and looked like one of Mathilde and Agnès’s friends, shallow and vicious. The other half was bare and looked pale and tired.
Yawning, she finished washing her face and took the pins out of her hair.
From the hallway came the pitiful fussing of a sick baby. Louise Verte was standing out there, rocking and trying to soothe Baby Jacques, who was sick with a fever and a rash.
“Poor darling,” Marianne said when she looked down at Jacques’s blotched face.
“I’m waiting for Dominic to come back with the doctor,” Louise told her, “oh, what a beautiful dress.”
“Where did you go all dressed up like that?”
“To a party at my aunt’s.”
“Oh, how was it?”
“It was a very nice party.”
“Was that all? I bet there were lots of handsome beaux?” Jacques began to cry and Louise tried to soothe him “I know, I know. Papa will be back soon.”
“Was that young man from last spring there?”
“Yes and he was as charming as ever.”
“You must of had a wonderful time.”
“It was all very…overwhelming.”
“What, dresses and handsome beaux? What I wouldn’t give to be overwhelmed by them.”
Dominic came up the stairs, accompanied by an old doctor with a kindly wizened face who was carrying a black bag.
“This must be our little patient,” the doctor said when he looked down at the feverish infant.
The Vertes bid goodnight to Marianne and then went back into their flat with the doctor. Marianne then took Mimi’s advice and had a cup of tea then went to bed.
In The Commissariat
Augustin paced back and forth in his cell. He did know what day it was or whether it day was day or night because it was very dark in the cell block of the Fifth Arrondissement Commissariat.
A clock and a calendar hung on the wall at the other end of the room but Augustin could not see them because his eyesight was not very good at a distance. He did not even know how long he had been in his cell. The days in there all seemed to blur into one.
If only he could figure out the date or time or whether it was day or night.
Augustin lay back down on his cot and stared up at the ceiling with a blank expression. He had not thought about much lately. Sometimes he thought about Tante Maude and Lèon and how they were doing. He did allow himself to think about Marianne. It was painful to think about his family but it was unbearable to think about her, so it was better not to.
All there was for him to do was stare at the ceiling and hope that his trial would come soon.
“There’s a young lady to see you, Lerou,” a guard said to him in a sneering tone.
Behind him stood Marianne. The guard walked away with the same sneer on his face, leaving them alone.
“You’ve got five minutes, Mademoiselle.”
“Marianne, how are you Chérie?” Augustin said to her.
He reached through the bars of his cell to take her into his arms but not to kiss her. He buried his face in her hair and undid some of the buttons on the back of her dress so he could breath in the clean, sweet, and wholesome scent of her skin and hair.
In this embrace, he felt her heart beat and the rising and falling of her breathing. It was amazing how much vitality there was in that little form.
Then he let go of her and looked upon her fresh young face. The summer sun had brought out the gold in her hair and the freckles on the bridge of her nose.
“”I can’t stop worrying about you,” she answered.
“I’ll be alright, don’t you worry. Enough about me, what have you been up to?”
She could tell that he wanted her to chatter pleasantly to him to take his mind off of everything and so that’s what she did.
“We’ll, last Saturday my aunt had party. My cousin Mathilde let me borrow this beautiful dress she brought back from New York and it was all very lovely. A lot of my cousins’ friends were there and..”
“And you were showing yourself off for all those rich boys.” There was a surly bitterness in his voice.
“You’re better off with one of them anyway. Listen Mademoiselle Marianne d’Aubrey, how would you like to be able to walk into a restaurant at the Ritz Hotel wearing a nice dress, that you didn’t have to borrow from Cousin Mathilde, and have everyone wait on you. You would like that wouldn’t you? Well, you deserve much more than that, you’ve got a right to it. ”
Marianne appeared confused by his words.
“You could get yourself a rich man, you know that?”
Her expression seemed to say “you’re not making any sense, please stop it.”
“I have something for you,” she said, reaching into her apron pocket.
“What is it, Chérie?”
She put a delicate chain into his hand. It was threaded through a silver ring set with a winking red stone.
Augustin undid the clasp of the chain and put it around her neck then kissed her on the forehead.
“You keep it. You don’t want anything to happen to it.”
“Time’s up,” the guard butted in.
Marianne’s eyes looked hurt and angry as she said goodbye to Augustin. She felt that he was not serious about her and had only ever been toying with her.
Augustin had not meant to hurt her and was sorry that he had but it was all for her own good. He had meant everything he’d said about how she deserved better. She deserved a good man who could take care of her and give her a good life.
When she was gone, he continued pacing back and forth in his cell like a caged animal and thought about what lay in store for him. Things did not look good for him, especially without her.
“Get a good night’s sleep, Lerou,” the guard ordered him,”you’re going to La Santé tomorrow.”
The Girl On The Right
The chill of autumn came unexpectedly at the beginning of October after the unseasonably summery weather they had received that September. It was only then that people noticed the leaves changing color.
Paris seemed to have dozed off in the September heat and woken up to find herself several weeks later.
On a rainy October afternoon, Charles sat down in his living room with a tumbler of cognac and the newspaper. Not much in the news interested him. People were still talking about the arrest of Bruno Faucherie and there was talk of transportation to Cayenne. Charles had taken an interest in this story since he had been there when Faucherie had been arrested.
When he does with the newspaper, he picked up the copy of Les Miserables he was reading. He was at the part where Jean Valjean finds out about his daughter Cosette’s love for Marius. Something about this touched him in a bittersweet way.
The clicking of heels could be heard on the the tiles in the foyer.
“Welcome home Madame,” Lucille the maid said to Adèle, who was taking off her hat and raincoat.
“Thank you Lucille”
“Can I get anything for you?”
“A cup of hot chocolate would be lovely.”
Lucille left to go to the kitchen and Adèle went into the living room. She came over and sat next to Charles.
“How was rehearsal?” he asked her.
“Exhausting,” she answered, “I dropped by Charlotte’s on the way back. The measles are going around and both of her girls have it. Good thing Charlotte and I both had it when we were little. Alexandre is staying with a friend until the danger has passed.”
The photograph Charles was using as a bookmark caught Adéle’s attention. It was of three well dressed young women standing on a perfectly manicured lawn. In the background was a modest sixteenth century chateau of white stone with round turrets with grey cone shaped roofs. In the corner was written the date 1911.
“I recognize that chateau, it’s not far from where my parents live. It’s called Chateau Aubrey. Did you know those women?”
“No, this is an old print from a fashion magazine that I found. You know how they sell old prints in those vendor’s stalls by the river?”
“I like the girl on the right the best. The one in the center looks too haughty and the one on the left looks too insipid.”
The three young women in the picture were all dressed in white frocks and sun hats. The girl on the right stood out because of her lighter hair; the other two were dark haired. She did not have the perfect features that the other two had but her wise, wistful eyes and kind, gentle smile were lovely and made her face radiate with prettiness.
Catharine and Madeleine
Catharine was also spending a quiet evening at home, sipping hot chocolate and flipping through an album of old photographs.
The first photograph was of her as a seventeen year old debutante dated 1903. Then next was an equestrian photo of her taken in 1911, when she was twenty-five. She would marry George Thomas later that year and her wedding picture came after the equestrian one.
Catharine thought about something she had overheard two women who were old friends of her’s say at the party she had thrown the month before when they had thought she was out of earshot.
“Do you know who the blond girl in the blue dress is?” one of them asked the other, “that’s Catharine’s niece. Her mother was Catharine’s sister, the one that died some years ago. Poor thing, she was always overshadowed by her sisters.”
“Well, I don’t think many women could have competed with Catharine in her prime.” The other woman added.
“I never understood what men saw in her. She was always such a cold, awful woman.”
Catharine had just shrugged her shoulders and ignored it. She had always known that there were few people who actually liked her.
Speaking of Madeleine, there was a picture of her at age nineteen dated 1909. It was almost uncanny how much Marianne looked like her at that age. Sometimes she felt that Madeleine’s ghost was haunting her through her daughter.
Catharine compared the pictures of herself as a young woman to a photograph of Mathilde which hung on the wall. Mathilde took after her but there was not the uncanny resemblance between Marianne and her mother. Looking at Mathilde was like looking at an image of one’s self done by a caricaturist. All of the faults Catharine had as a young woman were exaggerated in Mathilde. She had been stubborn and bossy and used to getting her own way. Many hapless suitors had earnestly devoted themselves to her in her youth and she had treated them all horribly and ended up marrying the worst of the lot. But Catharine had never been as nihilistic and focused on cheap thrills as Mathilde was.
The only good thing about her had always been her beauty and now that she was an old hag, she had little to offer the world. The years had humbled her somewhat and had made her wiser.
Next to Madeleine was a picture of Mimi at age sixteen dressed in a blue evening dress. Mimi had arguably been the prettiest of the three of them and had been the petted baby of the family. She had been their good natured father’s favorite while Catharine had been the favorite of their formidable mother. Not much had been left for poor Madeleine who had never quite fit in and it had been so easy to bully her.
On the next page was a photograph of the three sisters at a party celebrating Catharine’s engagement to George Thomas. That night, Catharine had viciously mocked Madeleine to the point where she burst into tears. But that had also been the night when a dashing young man named James Beaumont had come into her life.
Madeleine’s face looked back at Catharine from a distance of twenty two years as if to say “I’m having the last laugh.”
“A letter for you Lerou,” a guard had said to Augustin.
Now he was sitting in a corner of his cell reading said letter. He did not recognize the handwriting on it but he recognized it’s scent. The paper had been sprayed with a perfume which smelt like lilies and honey; light and sweet and subtle.
“Who’s the letter from, Augustin? Your maman?” a prisoner in a cell near his, a thin, pale young man with a gaunt face, called to him, “Little old Augustin misses his maman.”
Augustin ignored him. He would never admit it but he was afraid of the other prisoners, anyone with any sense would be, but he sure as hell would never let them know.
“Dearest Augustin,” his letter read, “I’m sorry I haven’t been able visit you yet. Between shifts at the café and taking care of Manon, I haven’t had much time for anything. Manon has the measles that are going around and since I had it when I was a child, I offered to take care of her. Also, I’m trying to limit my contact with people for fear I might spread the disease.
A few weeks ago, I went to visit your Tante Maude and Léon. Both of them are very worried about you miss you dreadfully. Léon is being brave and is a great comfort to your aunt; you would be very proud of him. He and your aunt are sweet people and I’m fond of them already. That was the twenty-ninth of September, Saint Michael’s Day, and on my way home I made a wish at the St Michel fountain.
I never wanted to miss you but now I feel like I would visit you every day if I could. I don’t know what to do, I can’t bare being apart, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for you there.
The papers say that your friend Faucherie may get transported to Cayenne. I’m glad you weren’t bad enough be sent there; I think I would die if you were that far away. Warmest Regards, Marianne.”
Augustin folded up the letter and stashed it in his shirt.
That evening at dinner, the gaunt faced young man again teased him about his letter. When Augustin told him to mind his own goddamn business, some of his cronies held him while he pulled up Augustin’s shirt to get at the letter, which he read aloud. Augustin spat in his face and was given a black eye.
At night, Augustin tried to stay awake as long as he could like a child who was afraid of having nightmares, but he was very tired. He had been able to get a hold of some paper and a pen and decided to write back to Marianne.
“Chérie,” he wrote, “It’s frightening and lonely here and when I read your sweet letter, it made me feel less afraid and alone. I can’t bare having all these insane types around me all the time and I can’t think straight. I’ll write more tomorrow after I’ve gotten some sleep.”
Marianne went to visit Manon after work somedays days later, bringing a pot of bouillabaisse which Madame Océane had made and a bottle of rosé. She found Manon sitting up in bed sewing when she arrived. Manon was over the worst of her illness but her luminous white skin but was still covered in blotchy red rashes.
“There you are, girl,” Manon said when she saw Marianne coming through the door. Her soft voice was hoarse and she coughed.
“Madame Océane made you some bouillabaisse,” Marianne told her.
“Tell her thank you.”
Marianne put the pot on the stove to reheated the fish stew and opened up the bottle of wine.
“How is Anna?”
“Jean is hanging around again and she’s still blind.”
“Jésu, if he doesn’t say something to that girl, I will.”
A tray containing two bowls of bouillabaisse and two glasses of rosé was brought over to the bed and was placed on top of the quilt. Over supper, the two girls laughed about stupid things Mathilde and Agnés had said and done. Marianne told the story of Mathilde and some of her friends going to get their hair bobbed.
“Back at school, Mathilde would not shut up about it. She kept saying,” Marianne switched to a perfect imitation of Mathilde’s whiny soprano voice “I think it looks very modern. I’m glad women no longer have to suffer the drudgery of being slaves to their hair.”
Manon burst out laughing.
“It was ridiculous. Mathilde is about as iconoclastic as Notre Dame. “It’s you,” I told her, “I thought a bald monkey had gotten into your clothes.” “You’re a child, what do you know?” She said. I whispered under my breath “Mademoiselle Capuchine” and she called me a witch. Tante Mimi was angry with me for what I’d said, but she’s never said an unkind world about anyone her entire life.”
When they finished with supper, Marianne gathered the bowls and glasses and went over to the sink to wash them.
She went out to the water pump in the courtyard to fill a bucket of water for washing. While it was filling up, she took Augustin’s letter out from the bodice of her dress and read it over yet again; she had read it countless times since it had arrived.
The bucket began to overflow and Marianne quickly had to turn it off.
“What’s that you got there?” Manon asked her when she came back with the bucket of water, referring to her letter.
“A letter from Augustin.”
The two girls shared a smile and a giggle. Manon and Anna were the only two people who knew about Augustin and Marianne was grateful to be able to talk to them.
Sitting back down on the bed, Marianne read the letter and Manon’s usually placid face became serious.
“It’s a terrible place, that prison,” she said “I wouldn’t want to spend one night there let alone who knows how many years. People die in there all the time. They get sick or get beaten to death or the go mad and do the dirty work themselves. Not that I worry much for my brother Camille, as far I’m concerned the place is too good for him.”
Johnny, who had been sleeping on the bed the entire time, curled up at his mistress’s side as if sensing her distress.
“I better go wash those dishes.”
Manon felt bad for worrying her friend but it had been necessary to warn her.
“Thanks for all you’ve done for me.”
“You’re my best friend, it’s the least I could do.”
Officer Desmarais came into Café La Premiere Étoile the next afternoon. He sat down at his usual table and ordered a cup of coffee.
“I’m going to Montparnasse after work,” a pretty blond waitress said to the girl who was waiting Desmarais’s table.
“What’s in Montparnasse?” The other girl answered.
“La Santé Prison.”
“You’re going to visit Augustin?”
“I need to see him and know he’s alright.”
“I’m sure he is. Isn’t his trial soon?”
“Yes, it’s in a week.”
“Apparently, the powers that be want the criminals from the jewelry store robbery dealt with as soon as possible.”
“That’s good, you won’t be waiting much longer to find out what’s going to happen to him.”
Desmarais got up from from his table and went over to the tobacconist counter.
“Who is that girl?” He asked Madame Océane.
“Which one?” She answered.
“The fair one.”
“Is she in any trouble?”
“No, I’m just curious.”
“Her name is Marianne d’Aubrey. Pretty isn’t she?”
“An orphan, poor thing. But she’s got two rich aunts that live in St. Germaine. Good girl from a good family. Better than some of the little hussies I’ve had work for me.”
“I heard her talking about someone named Augustin. Could he be Augustin Lerou, one of Faucherie’s gang who was taken in for that jewelry store robbery?”
“I think so, I’ve heard her giggling about him with the other girls. He’s made quite an impression on her.”
“Is that so? Well, thanks for the information, Madame.”
The impression Desmarais got was that Marianne d’Aubrey was a nice girl who had gotten mixed up with someone she should not have. Her loving aunts deserved to know that she’d been seduced by a dangerous criminal, so they could protect her.
Off of St. Michel was a narrow street lined on either side with dreary brick buildings with walls covered in many years worth of soot and grime and dirty and darkened windows. The pavement was full of potholes which filled up with rainwater to form black and muddy puddles which stank of garbage and always were there, even in the driest of weather. At it’s far end was an ugly, crumbling, three story building with a facade of decaying shutters of a rain faded black and grime clouded windows hung with rags.
Rooms there were cheap and some of them could be rented by night or by the hour, which made them very popular with girls like Marie and Cerise, who rented a corner of the garret. Most of the other attic rooms were used by an old gypsy woman who made a living telling fortunes and conducting seances.
Marie pushed back the frilly white curtains, the only clean thing in the room, to look out of the dirty garret window. It was almost evening and she would be back out on the streets again soon.
Over on the bed, Cerise was laying on her side with a yellowing pillow over her head, still groggy and irritable and wearing the dirty eyelet slip and torn silk stockings from the night before. Once in a while she would moan in discomfort.
“What are you doing?,” Cerise asked Marie.
“Looking out the window,” Marie answered.
“I don’t know.”
Marie came and sat down on the stained mattress of the day bed across from Cerise’s bed.
“You better get up, we should get ready for work.”
Cerise gave an irritated moan.
Marie pulled a small bag full of makeup and a mirror out from under the daybed. The reflection which looked back at her while she was doing her make up was of a faded, buck toothed, creature and not the seductive girl she tried to imagine. She had never been pretty but night after night of boozing and quickies in alleyways had really taken their toll on her appearance.
Neither she nor Cerise could remember a time when they had not lived like this. Both of them had sprung up in the Paris slums like weeds through sidewalk cracks and had been letting their knickers down since age twelve. It had never occurred to either of them that life could be any other way.
It had rained for most of the day but the rain had stopped by evening. The rain soaked city let out a damp and stinking smell. Marie decided to ply her trade at the St. Michel metro station, where she was picked up by a man who paid her to suck his cock on board a metro car. He stood, holding onto one of the handrails, while she opened his trousers and began pleasuring him.
He came about two or three minutes later when they reached St. Sulpice.
Marie got off at St. Sulpice and loitered by a stairwell waiting for her next pick up. A devastatingly handsome young man with fiery eyes and smooth blond hair sticking out from his hat approached her.
“Good evening, Monsieur,” she said to him.
“Excuse me, Mademoiselle,” he said to her, his voice was a gravelly tenor, “Do you see that girl over there?”
He was referring to a blond haired girl in a yellow dress and greenish-brown cape whom Marie did not recognize. She had thought she knew all the girls who picked up in this part of Paris.
“Bet she’d cost you more than a few sous. Frankly I think it’s past her bedtime.”
The young man reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out some money.
“Here’s money for the metro. I want you to follow her and find out where she’s going. When you’re done, come find me at the café across the street,” He pinched her cheek, “And if you’re a good girl, there’s more where that came from.”
Marie took the money. She did not see the harm in it, all she had to do was follow some hussy around and see where she was going. The money he had given her was about as much as she made in a night and there was more to come.
Frankly, she did not see why he was interested in the blonde. She looked like a little goodie-goodie and could not possibly be going anywhere that interesting.
The girl got on the next train which she took to Montparnasse. Marie followed her to-of all places-La Santé Prison. She stopped and thought about who she knew that was in there and came up with Anton-le-Basque.
“You have five minutes, Mademoiselle,” the guard said to her as she was brought into the cell block.
“Nice to see you, Marie,” Anton greeted her, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I thought you might be lonely.” She answered.
“You’re a sweetheart, you know that?”
They had not seen each other in few weeks and they spent a few minutes catching up.
The blonde was standing in front of a nearby cell talking to a wiry boy with curling dark hair. His large green eyes lit up to see her.
“I’m glad you came today, Chérie,” he said.
“I needed to know how you were doing,” the blonde to him, “You look so pale.”
“I just haven’t gotten much sun lately. This place ain’t exactly San Tropez.”
“If this place is San Tropez, they can keep it.”
She stood up on her toes and leaned in through the bars to kiss him. He snaked his arms through the bars and around her waist.
“So that’s what it looks like, love?” Marie said wistfully.
“Wouldn’t know, never tried it,” Anton responded.
“Do you know that type?”
“Yes, his name is Augustin Lerou.”
“Time’s up, Mademoiselle,” the guard but in.
“Be careful tonight, Marie.”
“Don’t need to. I’m keeping my knickers on tonight, thank you very much.”
Marie too the metro back to St. Sulpice found the handsome young man at the cafe across the street.
“So,” he prompted.
“She got off at Montparnasse and went to La Santé.”
“Who did she go to see?”
“Some con they’ve got locked there.”
“Did you catch his name?”
“Yes, it was Augustin, Augustin Lerou.”
The young man took some more money out of his pocket and gave it to her.
n After the tart had left, Edmond ordered himself another glass of crémant d’Alsace brut and lit another cigarette. The more he thought about it, the more the name Augustin Lerou seemed familiar to him. He must have heard it somewhere, in the papers, in relation to some jewelry store robbery everyone was talking about a month before.
So little Cinderella was fooling around with a convicted jewel thief.
Augustin was able to get a shower and a shave in that night which did him some good. As he was shaving in front of the mirror in the shower room, he saw the reflection gaunt faced young man, whose name he found out was Camille, pass by him, sneering.
At first he had thought that Camille was just your average thug and that he could handle him but the more he saw of him and heard about him, the more he began to think that he was much worse than he had thought. It was said that he had set fire to his house when he was a kid and the fire had killed his entire family, aside from his little sister, whom the firemen were able to rescue. More disturbingly, it was said that he did unspeakable things to unfortunate fellow inmates he caught alone in the showers, just to show that he could.
The black eye Camille had given him was healing but was still fairly noticeable. He wondered if the dim light in the cell-block could have hidden it, because Marianne had not said anything about it. The last thing he wanted was to upset her and get her worried.
Back in his cell, Augustin took out his pen and paper to write his letters. One was for Tante Maude and Léon, assuring them that he was alright and taking good care of himself. The other was for Marianne.
“Chérie,” he wrote, “Remember that first time you came to see me, and I told you that you deserve to be able to walk into the Ritz wearing a nice dress and that you would be better off with one of those rich boys at your aunt’s house? Well, I meant every word of it. See you today, kissing you and holding you in my arms, made me remember how much I want you for myself, but I’m willing to let you go for your own good. I’m going to be here for who knows how long and it would do to have you waste your life as well.
Someday, I hope to read in the paper that you married a prince in Notre Dame, wearing a dress with a train as long as the Champs Élysées. But remember this: if you do meet a prince and he loves you with all his heart for the rest of his life, he still could never love you any more than I do.”
On a brisk morning about a week later, a young American sat at his kitchen table, not thinking about anything in particular and drinking cup after cup of coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette. When it was time to go to work, he bid goodbye to his wife and ten year old son and left his apartment on the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève.
At thirty-three, Aiden Murray was a stout but good looking man of Irish ancestry, being the first generation of his family born on American soil, with large blue eyes and hair that was a light reddish brown in the winter and a deep ruddy gold in the summer.
He had come over to France with the first wave of doughboys back in 1917. He had been barely seventeen at the time but could have passed for older. When the war ended, having fallen in love with a French girl and not seeing any reason to come home, he decided to stay in France, where he did pretty well for himself as a freelance journalist.
That day one of the newspapers that regularly employed him, was sending him to cover a trial. The story seemed straightforward to him: some young punk was going to be found guilty of a crime which he committed and was going to serve a jail sentence which he deserved.
The case was brought before the Court of Appeal at the Palais de Justice. A dark haired lad of twenty was brought out. He looked pale, thin, and sleep deprived. There was the faintest trace of a bruise over one of his eyes. But he stood there looking brave and stoic during the entire trial.
“Look how young he is,” the crowd whispered about him. “He’s got a face like a baby.” “You can still smell his mother’s milk.”
The trial moved swiftly and efficiently and Murray took notes throughout. The defendant’s name was Augustin Lerou and he was twenty years old. He was born in Algiers. His parents had not been married, his mother being some Algerian slut his father had quickly abandoned. His Algerian nature had lead him into a life of crime at an early age and he had a history of pick pocketing and petty theft, the culmination of which being the theft of several items of clothing from a clothing store near the Pont Neuf called Bien Habillé which included a grey wool men’s suit, a silk men’s shirt, a red paisley tie, a grey hat, and a women’s chiffon dress.
Seeing the young man’s “talents” could be useful to him, Bruno Faucherie had sent his mistress, Hélène, to get him to enlist in his gang using her dark arts of…umm…persuasion. Being seduced by Hélène, Lerou agreed to be apart of the robbery of the jewelry store, L’Oie D’Or on the Boulevard St. Germain which resulted in the shooting and severe injury of it’s owner, M. Bijoutier. Several days later, Lerou and fellow gang member Anton-le-Basque were arrested at Le Monstre, a rowdy and disreputable dive off of the Latin Quarter.
Murray guessed that the popular mood was against Augustin Lerou and the defense did not stand a ghost of a chance. In a blink of an eye, the jury returned a verdict of “guilty” and the judge read the sentence.
“Augustin Lerou,” the judge read, “You have been found guilty on one count of robbery and one count of accessory to robbery. You are sentenced to serve ten years for the first count and another five for the second count. That’s a total of fifteen years.”
With the pounding of the judge’s gavel, fifteen years in the life of someone barely out of their teens were thrown away.
A woman sitting among the spectators got up out of her seat and ran towards Augustin as he was being taken away and had to held back. She was a small, matronly lady with glasses and her mousy brown hair in a prim bun but it was as much as the guards could do to hold her back.
“My boy, ” she wept hysterically.
“I’m sorry Tante Maude,” Augustin said.
A petite blond girl stepped forward to try to comfort the boy’s aunt. She turned to Augustin and said “I love you.”
“I love you too, Chérie,” he responded calmly.
“I think this sends out a strong message,” said the chief prosecutor whom Murray had asked to give a statement “that in difficult times like these, no criminal behavior of any kind will be tolerated. Augustin Lerou will be in La Santé prison for the next fifteen years.”